Business leaders say private sector, not government, grows jobs

Teresa Wright
Published on February 11, 2016

Ron Keefe, chairman of the Island Advance advisory board, speaks at a funding announcement for phase two of work being carried out by the organization. Island Advance is a province-wide program working to spark interest and excitement in creating new businesses to spur economic growth in P.E.I.

©THE GUARDIAN/Heather Taweel

Ron Keefe, chairman of Island Advance says Island needs economic development, but government is not answer

It is not government’s job to grow jobs and the economy – it should be up to the private sector, according to the chair of a provincewide business initiative aimed at boosting the P.E.I. economy.

Ron Keefe is the chair of the Island Advance advisory board, which has been holding forums and conferences to try to increase entrepreneurship across the province.

He says the Island does need to grow its economy, but government is not the answer.

“Our position is that we need to engage the private sector more to push the economy forward,” Keefe said.

“The fact of the matter is government can’t commit an overabundance of resources. We have other things that we need to do with public monies in terms of funding health and education. The only way we can ensure that happens is if we grow a private sector-led economy.”

Island Advance was established as a provincewide initiative of the Greater Charlottetown Area Chamber of Commerce in an attempt to spark interest and excitement in creating new businesses and enterprise to spur economic growth in P.E.I.

This initiative has a three-point action plan it believes will help the private sector to move the economy forward: engage with entrepreneurs; ensure local businesses have access to capital; attract newcomers to invest in and become actively involved in the Island’s business community.

The first part of this action plan was tackled in 2014 and 2015, with several heavily attended events that offered Island entrepreneurs networking opportunities and practical advice on the start-up environment in Atlantic Canada.

The initiative is now entering its second phase, which will focus on the need for entrepreneurs to have access to capital funds and continue to try to engage with newcomers to P.E.I.

Keefe stressed the most ideal capital investments would come from private sector businesses and investors.

But they certainly won’t say no to government money.

A funding announcement held Wednesday heralded a $250,000 contribution from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency and another $162,000 from the P.E.I. government toward the Island Advance project.

Charlottetown MP Sean Casey, who formerly served as president of the Charlottetown Chamber of Commerce, stressed his belief that small- and medium-sized businesses are the job creators of the Canadian economy.

Keefe says it’s a formula that has been proven.

As the retired CEO of the bioscience company BioVectra, Keefe says his company grew from 100 to over 270 employees over a six-year period, and in that time grew its exports tenfold.

“We now have 270 employees here on P.E.I. that pay a significant amount of taxes and engage in the community of P.E.I. That’s where job creation is going to happen. You can’t expect governments to create jobs,” he said.

“The way governments help is by a favourable tax regime, and I maintain, and people may not agree, personal taxes should be high for people with wealth, but I think business tax should be low.”

Island Advance will be holding a conference later this month for investors, presenting various models for investment in local companies and entrepreneurs.